Massachusetts ranks 4th for solar installations in 2014, but inaction by state leaders could stall growth
Boston – Massachusetts ranked 4th nationwide for the amount of solar energy capacity installed in 2014, according to a new report from the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center, but leaders warned that the rapid growth of solar energy could stall if state officials fail to lift a cap on Massachusetts’ most important solar program.
“Massachusetts is a national leader for solar power, but inaction by our state’s leaders is threatening to change that,” said Ben Hellerstein, State Director for Environment Massachusetts. “We should lift arbitrary limits on solar power and bring as much solar to Massachusetts as we can, as quickly as possible.”
Lighting the Way III: The Top States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2014 shows that the top solar states, including Massachusetts, are more likely to have strong pro-solar policies in place than other states. Because of its supportive policies, Massachusetts has installed significantly more solar capacity than bigger, sunnier states like Texas and Florida.
From 2013 to 2014, Massachusetts retained its spot as the state with the 6th highest total installed solar capacity. But there are already signs that Massachusetts’ solar industry has slowed in response to a limit on a key program known as net metering. A recent report from GTM Research predicted that Massachusetts will install less solar power this year than in 2014, after years of rapid growth.
"Thanks to supportive state policies, solar companies now support thousands of jobs in communities across Massachusetts, helping to repower our state with clean, renewable energy," said John Livermore, Marketing and Outreach Director for Boston Solar, a solar installer based in Woburn. "But without prompt action to lift the net metering caps, we'll see a major slowdown in solar power."
Net metering allows solar panel owners to receive fair compensation for the electricity they provide to the grid. In March, a cap on net metering was hit for the 171 Massachusetts communities served by National Grid. As a result of the cap, many businesses, local governments, and nonprofits hoping to install solar panels are no longer able to do so.
In July, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved a bill to lift caps on net metering. Governor Charlie Baker also introduced a bill to lift the caps, but Environment Massachusetts warned that the Governor’s bill would ultimately slow the growth of solar power and make it harder for many, including renters and residents of low-income communities, to access the benefits of solar. The Governor's bill would significantly reduce the compensation that many types of solar projects receive under net metering.
"Across Massachusetts, solar energy is enabling people from all walks of life to produce their own clean, renewable power, cutting down on harmful air pollution while reducing their electricity bills," said Laura Porter, Good Green Jobs Coordinator with Co-op Power. "Lifting the caps on net metering is critical to ensuring that we can continue to expand access to solar power."
This summer, Environment Massachusetts organized the “Soak Up the Sun” Solar Tour, visiting 10 communities across the state to bring attention to the impacts of the net metering caps. Local officials, solar business owners, and nonprofit leaders spoke about proposed solar projects that have stalled because of the caps.
Of the 10 states with the highest installed solar capacity per capita — Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Colorado — nine, including Massachusetts, have strong net metering policies as well as laws to allow solar customers to connect to the electricity grid. All ten have renewable energy requirements.
"Our analysis shows that policy choices are a key driver of solar energy growth," said Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group, co-author of the report. “State and local government policy leadership is closely aligned with success in growing solar energy.”
From 2010 to 2013, solar energy grew at an average rate of 127% per year in Massachusetts. In 2014 the solar industry supported more than 12,000 jobs statewide, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.
“The net metering limits are killing hundreds of solar projects across Massachusetts and subsequently putting working families at risk. For every megawatt of solar energy delayed, approximately 20 livable wage electrical jobs are squandered,” said Lisa Podgurski, Manager of Business Development for the 7,500-member International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 103 and its over 200 employer–contractors. “Our members cannot continue building clean energy infrastructure in their communities until the Legislature raises the caps. Absent that, explosive growth responsible for over 12,000 green careers will likely vanish.”
The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which sets state-by-state limits on carbon pollution from coal and gas power plants and was finalized last month, provides an additional reason for Massachusetts to accelerate its development of solar energy. According to research from Environment Massachusetts, solar power could meet about three-quarters of the pollution reduction targets required by the plan.
“When it comes to solar, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels,” said Hellerstein. “Governor Baker and other state officials should lead the way by lifting arbitrary caps on solar and committing to a goal of 20% solar by 2025.”
Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentMassachusettsCenter.org